Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 March 2012
When Luigi Einaudi—eminent economist, bibliophile, winemaker, and future President of the Italian Republic—first entered the house of the philosopher Benedetto Croce in Naples, it was to ask him a question of the utmost importance. The year was 1931, Benito Mussolini was in power, and, like all university professors, Einaudi was faced with a vexing predicament: should he swear loyalty to fascism, or resign from academia? Curiously, their subsequent correspondence gives no indication of what Croce advised, though one can surmise that he feared a Diaspora of the righteous would leave the field free for fascism. In fact, for various reasons, only fifteen or so of more than twelve hundred academics stepped down, and Einaudi was among those remaining to fight the regime from within. But the Einaudi-Croce correspondence is nonetheless interesting. Rather than ruminating on the ruinous state of affairs, their letters were devoted to a centuries-old economic treatise. Croce admitted he had been too absorbed by the political argument at hand during their meeting to take notice, but his daughter Elena perceived the ‘admiration and desire’ in Einaudi's eyes upon seeing a redoubtable little volume by the Calabrian Antonio Serra in the family library. Croce immediately and characteristically asked the historian Fausto Nicolini's son Benedetto to send his personal copy, which Einaudi joyfully accepted as ‘a sign of comfort and absolution’ for the difficult choice he felt forced to make.